IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

U.S. undermines its own policies on Venezuela, Saudi Arabia in bid to replace Russian oil

Trying to stop Russia’s war in Ukraine should not come at the cost of strengthening other dictatorships with devastating human rights records.

The United States and its allies have been trying to cripple the Russian economy following its invasion of Ukraine by cutting off its oil and natural gas industry, which makes up 36 percent of Russia’s total economy. This massive supply is particularly crucial to Europe, which is dependent on Russian gas for energy, so the West is now scrambling for alternatives. The rush comes as gas prices are soaring, adding urgency to identifying other energy supplies. But as countries across the world seek to divest from Russia, they should not bend toward other dictatorships with questionable human rights records in a misguided effort to fill the void.

The apparent U-turn on Venezuela, which could mean short-term benefits at the gas pump, would bolster Maduro’s regime over Putin’s.

Crude oil prices have increased roughly 75 percent since Russia began surrounding Ukraine with troops in November, and Americans have felt the strain with pump prices reaching a record high of $4.331 per gallon. This surge in prices has exacerbated an already volatile energy supply suffering from Covid-19’s effect on the global supply chain and other woes.

With rising costs pressuring households across the country, and President Joe Biden declaring that the U.S. would be banning the import of Russian energy sources, the administration has fixated on finding alternative sources to Russian oil to drive prices down. These substitutes, however, should not be from regimes that also have horrifying human rights records, but rather allied countries like Canada and Iraq. Better yet, the U.S. should regulate American oil companies to reduce what they charge consumers.

Unfortunately, the quest to drive gas prices down has instead led the Biden administration to turn to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates as well as to consider U.S.-Venezuela rapprochement. Even Iran is being mulled as an oil source, with Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg declaring that “all options are on the table.” The European Union, meanwhile, has opened negotiations with a number of oil-rich African states, including Nigeria, despite its government’s marked corruption.

Principles should not be bent in order to force through a deal to bolster the U.S. economy. Doing so sends a terrible message to dictators around the world, while innocent people struggling under their regimes are only rendered more powerless. It also puts the U.S. in a position of strengthening future adversaries and antidemocratic forces, which could lead to a replay of the dire events we’re seeing in Europe right now.

Yet in the immediate wake of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the White House secretly sent senior officials to Venezuela to open discussions with President Nicolás Maduro on easing the sanctions regime that has prevented the country from exporting its natural resources to the U.S. since 2019, following a heavily disputed election in 2018. The sanctions were put in place to increase pressure on Maduro, whose government has been accused of crimes against humanity by the United Nations Human Rights Council that include mass extrajudicial killings, torturing of opponents and brutal crackdowns on opposition protests.

The apparent U-turn on Venezuela, which could mean short-term benefits at the gas pump, would bolster Maduro’s regime over Putin’s. It also would mean the thousands of Venezuelans who seemingly have died as a result of the crippling U.S. sanctions would have done so in vain — not to mention that the U.S. apparently cares more about saving on gas costs than saving their lives. Foreign policy should not be conducted to achieve haphazard short-term goals that favor one group’s suffering over another.

In the Middle East, too, the U.S. is walking back its principles in order to encourage more oil production. On the campaign trail and early in his presidency, Biden pledged to distance the U.S. from the Saudi government, referring to the Gulf monarchy as a “pariah” after Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman was found to be behind the execution of Washington Post contributor Jamal Khashoggi. Biden has also said he would withdraw U.S. support for the brutal war in Yemen, conducted by a Saudi-UAE coalition, which has left more than 370,000 civilians dead and 16 million at risk of starvation. Both Saudi Arabia and the UAE have even been accused of allowing powerful American weapons they received to prosecute the conflict to reach dangerous Al Qaeda-linked militants.

Just this month, the Saudi monarchy conducted a mass execution of 81 people, which was condemned by the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, but the Biden administration still transferred a significant number of Patriot missiles to the country. The U.S. has been hoping to convince Saudi Arabia, the de facto leader of OPEC, a cartel of petroleum-producing countries, to increase oil supplies and therefore drive prices down. So far, however, Saudi Arabia has been rejecting the U.S. advances.

Ideally, however, instead of attempting to replace Russian oil to drive gasoline prices down, the U.S. would focus on regulating the fossil fuel industry to ensure oil companies absorb increases in crude oil prices. Despite the strain felt by average Americans, oil and gas companies have been celebrating soaring company profits as pump prices continue to rise. When the price of crude oil increases, pump prices are quick to reflect that, yet when the price of oil falls, prices at the pump often remain high. Last week, even though crude oil prices dropped, exorbitant prices for consumers persisted, as, in the words of Biden, companies “pad their profits at the expense of hardworking Americans.”

To buffer the cost at gas stations, the big oil companies should be made to absorb aberrant crude oil price spikes, especially when the U.S. can increase its own production of oil. Just as Wall Street bonuses could be reined in by rules at the federal level, so should oil company CEO bonuses, rather than passing the cost of spikes on to average Americans. While the global oil crisis has seen gas prices surge for drivers, BP managed to more than double its CEO’s total pay to nearly $6 million.

The attempts to limit Russia’s capability of conducting war in Ukraine should not come at the cost of strengthening other dictatorships with devastating human rights records. If anything, we should be taking the Russian oil embargo as an opportunity to divest entirely from fossil fuels and rapidly push investments in renewable sources. Although this will take longer to foster financial rewards, it will undoubtedly benefit both the environment and humanity in the long term.